A conversation with His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Srila Prabhupada: All over the world, or anywhere in the world, you can make this experiment, just as we are doing. Live very simply, be self-sufficient; get your necessities not from factories but from the farmland. And glorify God’s holy names.
In this industrial set-up, capitalist or communist, only a few big men can be happy—so-called happy—at the expense of the other people. And because the others are being exploited or simply left unemployed by this corrupt few, the others also become corrupt. They try to avoid all work and sit idly. Or else they do not work honestly. And so many other things.
So the only remedy is that everyone should live naturally and chant God’s holy names. Become God conscious. This remedy is simple, and here you can see some of the results. My young European and American students—they had been addicted to drugs and drinking and smoking and so many other modern bad habits. But now, just see how sober they are and how they are glorifying the Lord’s holy names.
You can change the world and make everything all right, provided you take this instruction. There is no other remedy. If you choose not to listen, what can be done? The remedy—the right medicine—is there. But if you don’t take the medicine, how will the disease be cured?
W.H.O. member: You referred earlier to the unfortunate departure of villagers to the city. You pointed out that in city life, the villagers become factory workers, and then so many evils follow. And you suggested as a solution that if we live in the villages and work the land for a mere three months, we’ll have food to eat for the whole year.
But I’d like to point out that there is such a vast amount of unemployment in our towns and villages. Many people there are feeling doomed. They cannot produce enough food for themselves, because they do not have access to the land. The mercantile people use it for their own purposes. And this is why so many of the ordinary people are unemployed. This is why they go into the cities. It is not necessarily that “the good life” in the city attracts them, but that they don’t have access to the land. The land is not used by the mercantile group, and the ordinary people are not able to live in the villages as free men and grow enough food for themselves.
Now, the mercantile group are exploiting. They are exploiting. So unless there is some kind of revolution by which you can curb the power of this mercantile group, how can you hope that someday people will be able to live in their villages and grow their own food on the land?
Srila Prabhupada: The thing is, the government has the duty to see that nobody is unemployed. That is good government.
In the Vedic system, society has four natural groupings. The brahmanas, or thoughtful group, instruct and advise. The kshatriyas, or dynamic group, protect and organize. Then the vaishyas, or mercantile group, look after the land and cows and see to food production. And the shudras, or laboring group, assist the other groups.
Now, this means that the government should be composed of dynamic kshatriyas, who will protect everyone else and make sure the various groupings are doing their duties. The government has to see that everyone is properly employed. Then the whole problem of unemployment will be solved.
W.H.O. member: But at present the mercantile group are also in the government. In fact, they are entrenched. They have a very strong voice in the government, and in many instances they are outright officials in the government.
Srila Prabhupada: No—that means bad government.
W.H.O. member: Yes, that is … that is true.
Srila Prabhupada: That is bad government. The mercantile group should have nothing to do with the government. Otherwise, how can the government see—with no ulterior motives—about everyone’s employment?
The government should encourage the mercantile group to use their ingenuity freely, but not to devise unnatural industries that come and go and leave people unemployed. The government has to see that everyone is properly employed.
W.H.O. member: That’s what I am looking forward to—the day when the Krishna consciousness movement can become a real revolutionary movement that will change the face of society.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. I think it will bring revolution, because the American and European people are taking it to heart. I have introduced it to them, and they’re very intelligent—they take everything very seriously.
We have been working only a few years, and yet we have spread this movement all over the world. If people take it seriously, it will go on, and there will be revolution. Because we are not working whimsically, capriciously. We are taking authoritative direction from the shastra, the scripture. There is so much information here. People can read all these books and get information. If they take it seriously, it will bring revolution.
A conversation with His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
This conversation between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and Mr. P. Sharma, a former United Nations worker, took place in Paris some eight years ago.
Srila Prabhupada: Suppose I ask the United Nations, as an organization, to explain the purpose of this cosmic manifestation. I am created a man, another is created an elephant, and another is created an ant. Why is this? The sun is rising on time, the moon is rising on time, seasons are changing. What is the purpose behind all this?
Mr. Sharma: I think the United Nations would be at a loss to tell you.
Srila Prabhupada: So, people have become very dull in spite of their so-called education.
Mr. Sharma: Oh, yes. Education today is merely book knowledge.
Srila Prabhupada: Such so-called knowledge is described in Srimad-Bhagavatam as simply a waste of time. Although a person may execute his duties perfectly, if he doesn’t understand the purpose of creation—if he doesn’t awaken his Krishna consciousness—then whatever he has done is simply a waste of time. So our point is that the United Nations is only wasting time.
Even from the practical point of view, they are unable to accomplish anything. The original idea was to stop war. But there have been so many wars, and they cannot stop them. They call themselves the United Nations, but actually they are becoming disunited more and more. According to the Bhagavad-gita, if they actually want peace they must know that Lord Krishna (the Supreme Personality of Godhead) is the supreme enjoyer (bhokta), that He is the supreme proprietor (sarva-loka-maheshvaram), and that He is everyone’s friend (suhridam sarva-bhutanam). When they know this, Krishna says, then there will be peace. Otherwise, their big conferences in big offices will never be successful.
Mr. Sharma: That means everything belongs to God. That’s the one fact they want to avoid.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is their nonsense. The United Nations is simply an association of the cheaters and the cheated. Someone wants to cheat, and someone is being cheated. That is our opinion. So how can an association of cheaters and cheated do any good for human society? They are cheaters. They do not know how to attain peace, but they are claiming that they will bring peace to the world. Therefore they are cheaters.
Mr. Sharma: Well, many people will say that the only things that matter are those that can be rationally explained. Anything else is beyond reason—
Srila Prabhupada: But our argument is quite reasonable. Everything in this room has been created, Isn’t that so?
Mr. Sharma: Yes.
Srila Prabhupada: The table has been created, the light has been created—everything has been created by someone. So how can you deny the fact that someone has created the whole universe? If you say it has come about automatically, that is rascaldom. Someone has created it. But who is that someone? We are not the creators. So we can understand that someone else has created this world. And then we have to ask. Who is the proprietor? Shall I be the proprietor or shall the creator be the proprietor?
Mr. Sharma: The creator, of course.
Srila Prabhupada: So why are they claiming, “This is my country”?
Mr. Sharma: Are you saying that the United States, for instance, doesn’t belong to the Americans?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. It doesn’t belong to them. Yet these rascals are claiming, “This is mine. This is my flag.” Therefore, they are all cheaters. And they are combining and trying to cheat others. The Americans are thinking, “How can I cheat the Russians?” And the Russians are thinking, “How can I cheat the Americans?” Is that civilization—to become cheaters and waste time in so-called conferences? Is that civilization?
Mr. Sharma: No, not at all.
Srila Prabhupada: In America they cheated the red Indians. They got the land, and now they are claiming, “It is mine.” Well, where did you get this land? You cheated the red Indians, and now you claim it is your land. All over the world this is going on. Napoleon thought, “France is mine.” So, France is there, but where is Napoleon? Where is he living now? In France or in hell or in heaven? There are so many places and so many forms of life. In this body, in this life, I may be working as a nationalist—as a Napoleon or as a Gandhi or as someone fighting in the United Nations. But as soon as this body is finished, I’ll get another body. So the whole duration of my previous life is simply wasted.
Mr. Sharma: I see …
Srila Prabhupada: Simply wasted. They are simply wasting time. They don’t have perfect knowledge—simply some Utopian ideas. And they are passing as advanced in civilization. They should know what the purpose of life is—what our relationship is with this cosmic manifestation. There must be a creator. So who is that creator? What is my relationship with Him? But they are neglecting all these things and still passing as world leaders.
Mr. Sharma: That’s the worst kind of government. It seems that their standard is just as you’ve said: every nation for itself.
Srila Prabhupada: But a human being can get out of this illusion. There is sufficient knowledge, especially in the Vedic literature. So why don’t they take advantage of this knowledge and make their lives successful? That is my proposal. We are spreading this Krishna consciousness movement only for this purpose. These people are missing the point and unnecessarily wasting their lives in illusion. So we are trying to save them—that is our Krishna consciousness movement.
A conversation with His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Srila Prabhupada: In your country there is a welfare department. The expenditure is increasing.
Srila Prabhupada: That means the social structure is very bad. Otherwise, the natural procedure is that everyone should be self-independent.…
Disciple: But what can the state do? Should the state just leave the people alone?
Srila Prabhupada: No. The state should make the citizens so nicely developed in their Krishna consciousness that they will be self-dependent, self- satisfied. That is the ideal of civilization.
Disciple: But America is very far from that.
Srila Prabhupada: Therefore it is not advanced, although they are very proud of their advancement. This is not a sign of advancement.…
Not very long ago, say about two hundred years, there was a big zamindar [landholder]. He was known as king in Krishnanagar. He was very charitably disposed, so he went to a brahmana—a greatly learned scholar—and asked him, “Can I help you in any way?” And the brahmana replied, “No, I don’t require your help. I am quite satisfied.”
The zamindar asked, “How are you satisfied?”
The brahmana said, “Oh, my students bring some rice, so my wife boils that. And I have got this tamarind tree. I take some leaves and prepare some juice out of it. That is sufficient.” You have perhaps heard of Canakya Pandita. He was the greatest politician. He was prime minister of India. But he was living in a cottage and just giving instructions. So that is India’s Vedic civilization. Everyone is satisfied, self-sufficient.
And now, in your country, to work you have to go to an office fifty miles away. And because you have to take this trouble, Krishna has provided you with cars. You are thinking, “I am advanced.” You don’t think, “Although I have got a car, I have to go fifty miles from my home.” This is illusion. You are thinking, “I am advanced. I am happy. I have got this car.” This is illusion.
Yes, [my disciple] Gaurasundara was going to work [to maintain a temple in Hawaii], and he was driving fifty miles to Honolulu. The poor fellow had to rise early in the morning, and he had to hurry greatly. Therefore I advised, “Gaurasundara, better you give up this job. Just depend on Krishna.” So he has given it up.
What is this? Going fifty miles by motorcycle or motor car—how tedious it is. But still they are satisfied: “We are advanced.” And because they have many cars, there is always that [imitates a traffic noise] wherever I go.
Disciple: And more problems come after that.
Srila Prabhupada: Wherever you go—[makes a traffic noise again]. Up in the sky [makes an airplane noise]. And then digging [makes a jackhammer noise]. Is it not so? Don’t you feel botheration? But they are thinking, “America is very much advanced in machines.” And when that garbage truck comes … [makes appropriate noise]. So many sounds are going on, always. Of course, you have got very nice cities, nice roads everywhere. But you have created so many troubles. In the news there was the story of a lady who became a patient. She became mad from all these sounds. And I think they are thinking very seriously how to stop all these sounds. Is that so?
Disciple: Especially the airplanes. They make such a tremendous sound that they break windows.
Srila Prabhupada: I am staying with Sambhu in Bombay. When an airplane comes over the top of the house, it is just like a thunderbolt.…
So this is called illusion. We are creating a civilization which is very painful, but we are thinking that we are advanced. This is illusion. We are simply creating problems, and still we are thinking that we are advanced.
But from another point of view, Srimad-Bhagavatam says there is no problem. Tasyaiva hetoh prayateta kovido na labhyate yad bhramatam upary adhah. You simply try for Krishna consciousness. And how shall I live? The answer is: tal labhyate duhkhavad anyatah sukham. You don’t aspire for miseries, but they come upon you; they are forced upon you. Similarly, happiness will also be forced upon you, whatever you are destined to receive. So don’t try for getting happiness or avoiding distress. Happiness and distress will go on. You simply try for Krishna consciousness, which without your trying will never be achieved. You have to voluntarily try for Krishna consciousness, revive it.
Therefore Lord Krishna says, sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam sharanam vraja [“Simply surrender unto Me”].… Krishna can force you to be-come Krishna conscious. But He doesn’t do that. He doesn’t interfere with your independence. He simply says, “Do it.” Therefore you have to try for Krishna consciousness, not for other things.
Other things are already there. For the birds and beasts there is no problem for eating. Why should you have a problem? A prisoner has no eating problem. The government supplies what he needs. He only has the problem that he should not be a criminal. That is his problem. He should try for that: “I shall never again become a criminal.” That is the real activity. It is not that in the prison he has to worry, “What shall I eat?” No, eating is already there. Even if you are a prisoner, the government has supplied food. Similarly, God has supplied everyone with eatables, even cats and dogs. Why not you? You have created your own problem. The real problem is how to develop Krishna consciousness.
Disciple: These problems will take care of themselves if people develop Krishna consciousness?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
A conversation with His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
W.H.O. member: There is one thing that I cannot reconcile. As an Indian, the question bothers me very, very often. I believe in a great many things that you said about returning to a simpler, more natural way of life. And about finding satisfaction in our spiritual dimension. There’s no question about that. I’m not what you would call a “Westernized Indian.”
But what I cannot reconcile is the fact that we who had this spiritual knowledge and all our cultural guidelines, which you have just now said are the solutions to all our problems—with all these guidelines, we have not been able to keep our society free from so many evils that have come about. I’m referring not only to the poverty but also to the unemployment and to the hunger and to so many other things.
Srila Prabhupada: No, it is not because of our cultural guidelines, but because of bad leaders who do not follow them. It is due to these bad leaders.
W.H.O. member: They are our own people. They—
Srila Prabhupada: They may be our own people. They may be our own father. Prahlada Maharaja was a devotee of the Lord, and yet his father was Hiranyakashipu, an utter demon. So what can be done? Most people are good, and yet so often we see that their leader is a godless demon.
W.H.O. member: Yes, Hiranyakashipu had to be destroyed.
Srila Prabhupada: So he was destroyed. By God’s grace he was destroyed. And every one of these modern demonic leaders—they will be destroyed. These demonic leaders will not stay. They’ll be destroyed. But everything takes time.
At the present moment, our leaders are not very good. Blind. They have no knowledge, and yet they are leading. Andha yathandhair upaniyamanas: the blind leading the blind—into the ditch. These leaders have killed the world’s original, spiritual culture, and they cannot give anything in its place.
W.H.O. member: So has your movement involved itself in social philosophy, then?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. This movement is most practical. For instance, we are recommending no meat- eating. And the leaders do not like it. We are not very favorable to their propaganda. So the leaders don’t like us. After all, they have allowed slaughterhouses, and beef shops anywhere and everywhere, and we are saying, “No meat-eating.” So how will they like us? That is the difficulty. “It is folly to be wise where ignorance is bliss.” But still we are struggling.
And the alternative we are recommending is also practical. These God conscious farming villages have proved successful. The inhabitants are finding their life happy and abundant. Nature’s bounty supplies fruit and vegetables and grain. And the cows supply milk, from which you can get yogurt, cheese, butter, and cream. So with all these ingredients, you can make hundreds and thousands of delicious preparations. And you feel fully satisfied. That is the basic principle.
W.H.O. member: That is an example of a successful enterprise, but would you speak about something now that has not been tried before?
Srila Prabhupada: The “new thing” is that these people living in God conscious farming villages do not have to travel away for their daily bread. That is the new thing for modern society.
At present, most people have to travel some distance to the factory or office. I happened to be in Bombay when there was a railway strike—oh, people were suffering so much. You see? From five o’clock in the morning, they were standing in a queue for catching a train. Of course, during the strike hardly any trains were running. So people were in so much difficulty. And if one or two trains were running, so many people were trying to squeeze themselves into the cars. Smashing themselves in. They were even on top of the train.
Of course, in the more industrially advanced countries, the people go to the factory or office in cars—and risk being killed in highway crashes.
So the question is. Why should one be induced to go so many miles away from his home simply for earning his livelihood? This is a very bad civilization. One must obtain food locally. That is a good civilization.
W.H.O. member: I understand that your goal is to have everybody become self-sufficient in regard to food. But if all the people are engaged in the production of food, then who will be providing other things?
Srila Prabhupada: We don’t say everyone should be engaged in food production. According to the Bhagavad-gita, naturally you will have a section of men who will produce food, a section of men who will give spiritual direction, and a section of men who will manage as the government or king. And the rest of the people are laborers who help all the other sections.
Not that everyone will be a cultivator. No. There must also be a brain department, a management department, and a worker department. These groupings are natural within any society. And all of them should work together for spiritual cultivation.
by Gadadhara Dasa
The Indian's faith in God, the soul, karma, and reincarnation is his greatest asset, an asset inherited from Vedic culture. When a person has deep faith that his happiness and distress stem directly from his pious or sinful acts of past lives or this life, he holds himself away from sin and embraces piety.
Such a person has faith that happiness will come unsought, just like distress. So he is not preoccupied with seeking material happiness, nor does he resort to unethical acts. A person nourished by Vedic culture is patient, knowing that happiness will come of its own accord.
The Vedic culture speaks strongly against the vices of meat- eating, intoxication, illicit sex, and gambling. It points one instead towards virtues like mercy, austerity, purity, and truthfulness. And when vices are curbed and virtues encouraged, society flourishes.
Consider, in contrast, what happens in a materialistic culture. In America, where I live, even the government and many churches encourage or tacitly approve of meat-eating, drinking, smoking, illicit sex, and gambling. So the highly industrious Americans pay heavily, with broken families, crime, sickness, lost production, and mental and emotional distress.
Fortunately, despite heavy propaganda from industries peddling vices, many Americans are slowly learning the truth about what is good and bad about the way they live. More and more Americans are turning to vegetarianism. More and more corporations, universities, and cities are banning smoking in the workplace. More and more communities are imposing controls on industries that dump junk into the air, water, and land.
America is suffering reactions to vices, and these reactions should be a warning to those shaky about preserving India’s Vedic culture. A person nourished by Vedic culture doesn’t seek pleasure in the vices of meat- eating, intoxication, illicit sex, or gambling. He knows that within the body he is a spirit soul, and he knows that any pleasure that comes only from the body is flimsy and temporary. He is convinced that vices will hurt him instead of helping. True and lasting happiness will come by seeing more to the needs of the soul than those of the body.
The world will be heaven if we drive away vices and promote the virtues of austerity, purity, cleanliness, and truthfulness.
A Course in Vedic Knowledge VI
by Pavanesana Dasa
PART I: The term Vedic society refers to a state that is organized according to directions given in the ancient Vedic literature. The Vedic social structure is not manmade but divinely inspired. And it is not an idealistic, imaginary system, but it existed in the past for thousands of years. The Hare Krishna movement is trying to revive an ideal society founded on the teachings of the Vedic literature. Although in the modern age it would be impossible to adopt all the aspects of the traditional Vedic society, the principles upon which the society ran are as appropriate today as they ever were.
The original Vedic society was different from India’s modern-day caste system. The Vedic society is called varnashrama, which refers to its four material divisions (varnas) and four spiritual divisions (ashramas). These divisions are not arbitrary; they are made according to natural differences in individuals. By organizing society into the divisions of atmarama, the state allows people to work according to their propensities and at the same time gradually elevate their consciousness. The ultimate goal of the atmarama system is self-realization, or Krishna consciousness.
The four varnas are:
- shudra (laborer class)
- vaishya (productive class)
- kshatriya (avdministrative class)
- brahmana (intellectual class)
If we analyze any society, we will find these divisions. Some people are inclined to crafts and manual work, some are inclined to business or agriculture, some to administration, and some to intellectual pursuits.
Modern secular, egalitarian society fails to recognize basic differences in individual propensities but adopts systems that use the individual as a commodity regardless of his nature or inclinations. Ultimately, no one benefits from such systems, because they are not natural. There cannot be equality on the physical platform. People obviously have different abilities and inclinations.
In the Bhagavad-gita (4.13). Lord Krishna says, “According to the three modes of material nature and the work associated with them, the four divisions of human society are created by Me.” In other words, the four divisions of varna are determined by guna and karma, by one’s qualities and one’s work—not by birth.
Therefore, if the son of a shudra (laborer) exhibits the symptoms of a brahmana (intellectual), he must be accepted as a brahmana. And if the son of a brahmana either has the qualities of a shudra or does the work of a shudra, he is considered a shudra. The saint Narada Muni, one of the great authorities of Vedic culture, makes this same point in Srimad-Bhagavatam.
The failing of modern Hinduism is that its followers disregard this scriptural injunction. In Vedic culture there is a natural respect for the “higher” classes, especially the brahmanas. Today, however, the higher classes cling to their status even when they are unqualified. In order to maintain their false status, they have concocted the idea of caste by birthright This allows them to enjoy privileges, and it bars the members of the other castes from ever questioning their qualifications. The practice of recognizing caste by birthright has caused much resentment in modern Indian civilization.
The Vedic literature compares the four divisions of society to the human body. The legs represent the shudras, the belly the vaishyas, the arms the kshatriyas. and the head the brahmanas. All these parts work together for the benefit of the whole body. When one part of the body is sick, the whole body suffers. Similarly, when one part of society is not functioning properly, the whole system suffers. Therefore, each part is important.
Now let us discuss the functions of the four varnas:
The brahmanas are considered the head of society, and their duty is to teach and guide all other varnas. Bhagavad-gita (18.42) lists the qualifications by which they are recognized:
Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, knowledge, wisdom, and religiousness—these are the natural qualities by which the brahmanas work.
Formerly, brahmanas would study the Vedic scriptures and become expert in one or several fields of knowledge. They were teachers, doctors, priests, astrologers, political advisers, and so on. They never charged for teaching, but those who took advantage of their knowledge supplied them with their necessities of life. The brahmanas would not accept more than necessary for a simple, austere life, and if they owned more, they would give it away in charity.
The kshatriyas are the arms of society. They provide all levels of administrative service up to the king, and they are the soldiers and the police. Their qualifications are listed in Bhagavad-gita (18.43):
Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness. courage in battle, generosity, and leadership are the natural qualities of work for the kshatriyas.
Vedic society was a monarchy. Unlike modern political leaders, the kshatriya kings were extremely powerful and would lead their men in battle. Civilians were never involved in warfare, and on the battlefield, fighting was only between equals.
The power of the king was not unlimited. Every king had an advisory staff of brahmanas, and he followed their advice, recognizing their wisdom. Thus a monarch would treat even a poor brahmana very respectfully as his superior.
A kshatriya king was responsible for the well-being of his citizens. He would never think of exploiting them, and he knew he had to accept karmic reaction for their sinful activities and for his own mismanagement.
The Vedic monarchs had to not only qualify as good administrators and military leaders but also exhibit the saintly qualities of a devotee of Krishna. The goal of their leadership was to enable all people to make progress on the path of spiritual enlightenment. Therefore, all activities detrimental to this goal were severely restricted. Vedic kshatriyas enforced injunctions against meat-eating, illicit sex, intoxication, and gambling. According to Vedic science meat-eating destroys the quality of mercy, gambling destroys honesty, intoxication destroys austerity, and sexual promiscuity destroys physical and mental cleanliness.
There are instances in Vedic history of kings who deviated from their duties of protecting the citizens and encouraging them to follow religious principles. These deviant kings were removed from their post by the spiritual power of the brahmanas. But such cases were rare, since kings were not elected by the politically uneducated masses but were selected by the most enlightened members of society.
Kingdoms would flourish under the rule of saintly and powerful monarchs. There was justice for everyone, even for people without money. Unemployment was unknown, because society was basically agrarian. Vedic society encouraged individual ownership of land so that people could be self- sufficient without artificial dependence on machines, bank loans, and complicated marketing procedures.
Life under saintly monarchs centered on Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and because of regular sacrifices and spiritual practices, nature responded with ideal weather, abundant food, water, and other natural resources. The people were happy and satisfied, and they progressed toward the goal of life, self-realization.
The vaishyas represent the belly of society. Their responsibility in Vedic culture was farming, business, and cow protection. Nowadays wealth consists of paper that can lose its value at any time. People have left the land by the millions, trading a simple and natural life for hellish factories, polluted cities, and stressful jobs. Often their dreams of enjoyment are frustrated by unemployment poverty, crime, and other harsh urban realities.
In Vedic times, however, land, cows, grains, and gold were considered wealth. They represent natural wealth, and their value is much more consistent than that of stocks and bonds.
In Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna states that the vaishyas have the specific duty to protect cows. The cow is the most useful animal. According to Vedic understanding, she is considered our mother because she gives us her milk. From milk a large variety of dairy products can be made: yogurt, cheese, butter, curd, buttermilk, ghee (clarified butter), various sweets, and so on. Ghee is an important ingredient in Vedic sacrifices, and therefore the cow is considered the mother of religion. Even after the cow dies a natural death, she leaves us her hide for many useful purposes. Therefore cow protection is essential for the vaishya community.
Although vaishyas engaged in business, in the Vedic society business and money-making were not regarded as the goal of life. Nor were people indoctrinated to work hard for an endless variety of products no one really needs. They were not constantly bombarded with advertisements designed to agitate their senses. Every morning people would go to the temple, and in the evenings they would assemble and listen to the scriptures.
The shudras are naturally inclined toward manual labor and service to others. They represent the legs of society. The shudras in Vedic society were not considered “untouchables.” Their services were seen as a valuable contribution to the smooth functioning of the Vedic society. Imagine a society without a work force to take care of construction, maintenance, cleaning, or general services. It obviously couldn’t exist.
The head, arms, belly, and legs all have to perform their part in order to be a complete body. These four varnas can cooperate peacefully for the benefit of society—but this is possible only if this system has a proper spiritual foundation. Without that, people become polluted by material qualities. In the next issue, we will discuss the spiritual divisions of Vedic culture.
by Hare Krishna Devi Dasi
To see the true value of the Vedic social system, we need to understand it in its original form.
Thinkers throughout history—from Plato to Locke to modern political theorists—have always discussed the ideal form of social organization. Vedic literature also addresses this question and presents as the ideal the social system known as varnashrama, which divides society into four varnas, or occupational groups, and four ashramas, or stages of life. The four varnas are brahmanas (priests and teachers), kshatriyas (rulers and warriors), vaishyas (farmers and merchants), and shudras (laborers and artisans). The four ashramas are brahmacharya (student), grihastha (householder), vanaprastha (retired), and sannyasa (renounced).
When His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada carried the wisdom of Vedic literature to the West, he was hoping for nothing short of a spiritual revolution. He knew that without Krishna consciousness, people cannot be happy. An important part of his strategy to spread Krishna consciousness around the world was the revival of varnashrama. For many years, his followers have pondered his instructions about varnashrama, but so far have made little progress in fulfilling his vision for it.
Part of the problem may be confusion caused by apparently contradictory things Srila Prabhupada said about varnashrama.For example, in the Bhagavad-gita (2.31), Prabhupada refers to varnashrama as “man’s steppingstone for spiritual understanding.” But in other places he implies that varnashrama can become simply a materialistic arrangement for one social group to dominate another, and by reinforcing identity based on bodily categories, it creates a stumbling block on the path to spiritual advancement. In some instances Srila Prabhupada says that because Lord Krishna created varnashrama, it exists in all societies at all times. But Prabhupada also sets forth the establishment of varnashrama as a central goal of the Krishna consciousness movement. So is varnashrama an aid for spiritual elevation, or an instrument for social oppression? Does it exist throughout human society, and has it existed throughout history, or is it yet to be established?
To clarify these issues, we must recognize that the word varnashrama conveys similar but significantly different meanings in different contexts. Here are three basic types of varnashrama:
- The original varnashrama is the division of society into four varnas and four ashramas that cooperate to satisfy the Supreme Lord. One’s varna is determined by one’s character, qualities, training, and work. The focus is spiritual advancement and spiritual satisfaction for each member of society.
- This kind of varnashrama is a spiritual institution, just as a temple or a church becomes spiritual when used to glorify the Supreme Lord. The original varnashrama is sometimes referred to as daiva, or “divine,” varnashrama.
- Materialistic varnashrama is the formal division of society into four varnas and four ashramas primarily to control society and increase the material well- being of certain groups. Typically, parentage and adherence to certain rituals determine varna, rather character and training. The hereditary caste system, a perversion of the original varnashrama, is in the category of materialistic varnashrama.
- Spontaneous varnashrama is a “default” society that results because by nature people tend to divide into classes (the four varnas). Spontaneous varnashrama is devoid of a connection with the Supreme Lord and does nothing to promote spiritual progress.
To help us understand the kind of varnashrama Srila Prabhupada promoted, let’s look at these types of varnashramas more closely, beginning with the least spiritual type.
In a June 1971 conversation with Professor Grigoriy Kotovsky in Moscow, Srila Prabhupada explained that because varnashrama is created by God, it exists in every society in every age:
In Bhagavad-gita [4.13] there is the statement catur-varnyam maya srishtam: this system was created by Vishnu [God]. So since varnashrama is a creation of the Supreme, it cannot be changed. It is prevalent everywhere. It is like the sun. The sun is a creation of the Supreme. The sunshine is there in America, in Russia, and in India—everywhere. Similarly, this varnashrama system is prevalent everywhere in some form or another. Take, for example, the brah-manas, the most intelligent class of men. They are the brains of the society. The kshatriyas are the administrative class; then the vaishyas are the productive class, and the shudras are the worker class. These four classes of men are prevalent everywhere under different names. Because it is created by the original creator, so it is prevalent everywhere, varnashrama-dharma. (Moscow, June 22, 1971)
Prabhupada is describing spontaneous varnashrama. People naturally tend to divide into the classes Prabhupada mentions, but there is no goal of using that social structure to serve the Lord.
In the Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.2.8) Suta Gosvami criticizes what we would call materialistic varnashrama: “The occupational activities a man performs according to his own position are only so much useless labor if they do not provoke attraction for the message of the Personality of Godhead.” This verse applies to the caste system of modern India. Although the caste system has some basis in religious tradition, for most of its practitioners the primary motivation is respectable social standing and material enjoyment, either in this life or the next, rather than service to the Supreme Lord.
The great sage Parashara tells us how human society can satisfy the Supreme Lord, even though He is already full in all opulences:
purushena parah puman
vishnur aradhyate pantha
“The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Vishnu, is worshiped by the proper execution of prescribed duties in the system of varna and ashrama. There is no other way to satisfy the Lord.” (Vishnu Purana 3.8.9)
Parashara Muni is referring to the original varnashrama system. Its essential feature is the deliberate organization of society so that the members of each class perform activities that help members of other classes in their spiritual advancement.
It is interesting to note that in the Vishnu Purana verse, Srila Prabhupada translates the word tosha as “satisfy” rather than “please.” I take this to mean that even though Krishna is pleased by the service of individual devotees, He is satisfied when everyone serves Him, because He knows that by serving Him all living entities will gain the greatest benefit. In daiva varnashrama everyone can serve the Lord, whatever his level of spiritual advancement, by following the principles Krishna sets forth in the Bhagavad-gita. In the third chapter, Krishna offers a description of work according to the principles of karma- yoga for those at the beginning level of spiritual advancement. As Krishna further explains in the twelfth chapter, those most captivated by material enjoyment and least able to follow regulations can make spiritual advancement by working for Him, offering Him the fruits of their labor, or at least renouncing the fruits of their labor for some charitable cause. Krishna emphasizes dutiful working according to one’s nature, with detachment from the fruits of labor. Workers in daiva varnashrama can gain further advancement because they work in the association of devotees and serve them.
Furthermore, everyone—brah-mana, kshatriya, vaishya, or shudra—is eligible to advance to the topmost spiritual platform by offering not just the fruits of activity but the very activity itself to the Lord in full Krishna consciousness. In the eighteenth chapter (verses 45-46), Krishna tells Arjuna, “By following his qualities of work, every man can become perfect. Now please hear from Me how this can be done. By worship of the Lord, who is the source of all beings and who is allpervading, a man can attain perfection through performing his own work.”
At this level, work is no longer counted as karma-yoga. Instead, it is considered bhakti-yoga, the highest stage of devotional service. Krishna informs Arjuna that if he acts on the platform of bhakti-yoga, he can “abandon all varieties of religion.” He has simply to perform his occupational duty as an offering of love to Krishna. He need not worry about all the injunctions contained in the “flowery words of the Vedas,” which concerned him in the opening pages of the Gita.
So only daiva varnashrama—the original system created by the Lord—can satisfy the Lord, because everyone can make spiritual progress. The more materially attached can learn to renounce the fruits of their labor. The more spiritually advanced can gain the highest spiritual ecstasy by offering their labor to the Lord in a spirit of loving devotion. The Lord is satisfied because He sees all His children advancing towards Him, each according to his highest capacity at the moment.
Those who have reached the top platform of pure devotional service, such as Arjuna [see sidebar: “Varnashrama and Karma”], are in fact transcendental to varnashrama, even though they still appear to be carrying out their varnashrama duties like anyone else. When engaged in pure devotional service by doing their work as bhakti-yoga, they are no longer on the material platform; they are in spiritual ecstasy.
Now that we have examined the three main types of varnashrama, let’s look at what we might call “Prabhupada’s varnashrama.”
In the Ninth Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam (9.10.51), commenting on the varnashrama structure in Lord Ramacandra’s ideal kingdom, Srila Prabhupada writes: “Among the four yugas [ages]—Satya, Treta, Dvapara and Kali—Kali-yuga is the worst, but if the process of varnashrama-dharma is introduced, even in this age of Kali, the situation of Satya- yuga can be invoked. The Hare Krishna movement, or Krishna consciousness movement, is meant for this purpose.”
When Srila Prabhupada indicates that it is a mission of the Hare Krishna movement to establish varnashrama, he clearly does not mean the spontaneous varnashrama he told Professor Kotovsky was already existing all over the world. Nor does he mean the materialistic varnashrama of social prestige. Rather, Srila Prabhupada means the original varnashrama, the social organization that can satisfy the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna, because it provides for the spiritual advancement of all types of people. Nevertheless, the varnashrama Srila Prabhupada presents for his followers has certain prominent features especially meant to make it an effective tool for spreading Krishna consciousness in the present age.
Not by birth. First of all, Prabhupada emphasizes that varna designations should be determined by character, training, and work, not by birth. He cites the injunctions of such sages as Narada Muni to back up his position. Srila Prabhupada indicates that rather than society’s using birth as the criteria, a devotee’s teachers and guru can help determine the varna best suited for his specific nature and guide him to appropriate training for that varna.
Living off the land. In previous ages there was no need to specify this, but for our age Srila Prabhupada constantly urged devotees to “get all your necessities from the land” and to “grow your own food, produce your own cloth.” A society based on simple living and high thinking would favor spiritual advancement.
The Varnashrama college. Srila Prabhupada writes in The Srimad-Bhagavatam (9.10.50), “As there are schools and colleges to train students to become chemical engineers, lawyers, or specialists in many other departments of knowledge, there must be schools and colleges to train students to become brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas, shudras, brahmacharis, grihasthas, vanaprasthas, and sannyasis.”
In March 1974 in Vrindavana, Prabhupada first outlined his ideas for a varnashrama college. Unlike traditional Vedic schools in which vaishyas, for example, were taught only scriptural studies (getting their vocational training at home), the varnashrama college would be for them somewhat like an agricultural university, in that there would be plenty of hands-on instruction, including practical subjects such as cow protection and food-crop cultivation. Also unlike traditional Vedic schools, even shudras would be included, although, again, their subjects would be centered on hands-on learning rather than formal classroom instruction. By training students in all the subjects necessary for the smooth functioning of a self- sufficient village, such a college would provide the foundation for setting up varnashrama.
Small-scale subsistence farming. Economic historians say that large-scale market-oriented farm production was unknown up to a couple hundred years ago. Today modern agribusinesses maintain large farms by capital- intensive techniques that rely heavily on tractors and petroleum, large pools of migrant workers, debt-intensive financing practices such as mortgages, government loans, and futures speculation in the commodity markets. In the model of varnashrama Srila Prabhupada presents, farmers don’t go into debt, because their local government gives them small plots to farm. Because these plots cannot be resold, farmers do not risk the unemployment that results when all the land ends up in the hands of the slickest businessman.
Economy based on agriculture and cow protection. Again, there was no need to emphasize this approach in traditional Vedic times, but for our modern times, when factory production and the service industry drive the economy, Srila Prabhupada often stressed the importance of resting our self-sufficient economy on agriculture and cow protection, or “living as Krishna lived.”
In the ideal varnashrama community, applying the principles of cow protection would mean that plowing should be done with oxen rather than tractors. The farmer effectively owns his means of production in a non-competitive system, and production is focused on home use and charitable giving, with only the excess being sold. Economic development would be highly localized, and short-distance shipping by ox-cart would re-place long-distance shipping by trucks and trains.
Mutual respect between varnas. In a 1975 conversation with an Indian governor in Vrindavana, Srila Prabhupada emphasized the deadly hazard of promoting contempt and hatred between the classes: “The shudras were hated like anything, so they became Mohammedans… . Now the result is that you and Pakistan go on fighting forever.” In contrast, Prabhupada stresses that in varnashrama everyone’s position is to be respected and appreciated because everyone is serving the Lord.
Protection for laborers. Prabhupada’s varnashrama does not sanction harsh treatment of workers and the hope of placating them with the promise of rewards in the next life. The other classes should treat their dependent workers kindly and fairly. To provide the needs for any society takes hard work, but Prabhupada condemned the hellish working conditions and social exploitation of modern industry: “The productive energy of the laborer is misused when he is occupied by industrial enterprises. Industry of various types cannot produce the essential needs of man, namely rice, wheat, grains, milk, fruits, and vegetables. The production of machines and machine tools increases the artificial living of a class of vested interests and keeps thousands of men in starvation and unrest. This should not be the standard of civilization.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.9.26, Purport)
On one hand, industrial development subjects the laborer to ghastly working conditions; on the other hand, its machines threaten him with unemployment and misery. Prabhupada considered laboring-class unrest a clear symptom of poorly trained government leaders. The test of good government is whether it can make everyone happy (sarve sukhino bhavantu). In return for their labor, workers should be treated amicably and assured of food, shelter, the necessities of life, and protection for their families.
Using varnashrama as a preaching tool. Srila Prabhupada envisioned varnashrama as the only effective means of spreading Krishna consciousness to the world.
In big scale you cannot make all of them brahmanas or sannyasis. No. That is not possible. This is small scale. What percentage of people of the world are we attracting? Very insignificant. But if you want to make the whole human society perfect, then this Krishna consciousness movement should be introduced according to Krishna’s instructions—if you want to do it in a large scale for the benefit of the whole human society. Now we are picking up some of them, the best. That is one thing. But Caitanya Mahaprabhu said para-upakara. Why only a certain section should be picked up? Let the whole mass of people get the benefit of it. But then it is required to be systematic. Therefore, we have to introduce this varnashrama- dharma. It must be done perfectly. It is possible, and people will become happy.” (Mayapur, February 14, 1977)
The varnashrama model that Srila Prabhupada presents is specifically adapted to the present age and focused on attaining the highest level of love of Godhead for all. Even if we can’t come to Srila Prabhupada’s ideal standards at once, we can take steps toward varnashrama that will provide the momentum to reach the goal. Faced with the inevitable difficulties of the present age, many people will then have the chance to be attracted to self-sufficient varnashrama villages, centered on the worship of Lord Krishna.
Lord Chaitanya and the Caste System
Materialistic varnashrama was practiced at least as far back as five hundred years ago, when Lord Krishna appeared on earth as Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. The hereditary brahmanas of the day were anxious to protect their social standing and expected others to observe their social customs. Lord Chaitanya, however, saw that such customs promoted social prestige and not spiritual advancement, so He defied them again and again.
The caste brahmanas believed that a person working in a shudra’s occupation could not become a spiritual master. Since Ramananda Raya was a government employee, they considered him a shudra. The Lord discounted Ramananda Raya’s nominal social position and took spiritual instruction from him because Ramananda Raya was a devotee on the highest level of Krishna consciousness. The caste brahmanas also considered anyone from a Muslim family unfit to enter the temple at Puri and see the Deity form of Krishna as Lord Jagannatha. But Lord Chaitanya, who is actually the same as Jagannatha, visited the great devotee Haridasa Thakura every day, even though Haridasa came from a Muslim family.
The hereditary brahmanas of Lord Chaitanya’s day were obsessed with dozens of rules and strictures drawn from the idea that a brahmana would jeopardize his position by eating with or even touching anyone from outside the brahmana caste. Lord Chaitanya dismissed such materialistic conceptions, however, accepting invitations to eat with devotees in the lowest social position. He freely touched and embraced sincere worshipers of the Lord, challenging the degraded, materialistic system of varnashrama.
The Natural System for Civilized Life
Human society all over the world is divided into four castes and four orders of life. The four castes are the intelligent caste, the martial caste, the productive caste, and the laborer caste. These castes are classified in terms of one’s work and qualification and not by birth. Then again there are four orders of life, namely the student life, the householder’s life, the retired life, and the devotional life. In the best interest of human society there must be such divisions of life; otherwise no social institution can grow in a healthy state. And in each and every one of the above-mentioned divisions of life, the aim must be to please the supreme authority of the Personality of Godhead. This institutional function of human society is known as the system of varnashrama-dharma, which is quite natural for the civilized life.
The varnashrama institution is constructed to enable one to realize the Absolute Truth. It is not for artificial domination of one division over another. When the aim of life, a i.e., realization of the Absolute Truth, is missed by too much attachment for indriya-priti, or sense gratification, as already discussed hereinbefore, the institution of the varnashrama is utilized by selfish men to pose an artificial predominance over the weaker section. In the Kali-yuga, or in the age of quarrel, this artificial predominance is already current, but the saner section of the people know it well that the divisions of castes and orders of life are meant for smooth social intercourse and high-thinking self-realization and not for any other purpose.
Herein the statement of Bhagavatam is that the highest aim of life or the highest perfection of the institution of the varnashrama-dharma is to cooperate jointly for the satisfaction of the Supreme Lord. This is also confirmed in the Bhagavad-gita (4.13).—Srimad- Bhagavatam 1.2.13, Purport
Karma and VarnashramaVarnashrama Curriculum: A Sampler of Courses
Students of Krishna consciousness know that the ideal life is a fully spiritual one—a life of devotional service to Krishna. They know that activities such as hearing about Krishna, chanting Hare Krishna, and so on, are purely spiritual and therefore yield no material reaction, or karma. But what about the activities of varnashrama or, specifically, our varnas, or occupations? Aren’t they material and therefore karmic?
Lord Krishna teaches in the Bhagavad-gita that whether a person’s work is spiritual or material depends mainly on his consciousness. Krishna also describes three kinds of action: karma, vikarma, and akarma. (Bhagavad-gita 4.17) Let’s examine these and related terms in light of the different kinds of varnashrama.
Karma can mean any activity—prescribed, sinful, or transcendental. But a more specific definition is work prescribed by scripture for one’s varna. Such work brings material rewards. The work of persons who follow the materialistic system of varnashrama is karma.
Vikarma means work against the laws of God, and it brings punishment. Much work under a spontaneous system of varnashrama falls into the category of vikarma.
Akarma means work as an offering to Krishna. Such work produces no material reward or punishment but leads to spiritual liberation. Akarma activities are the goal of the original, or daiva, varnashrama system.
Krishna recommends akarma (Bg. 3.9): “Work done as a sacrifice for Vishnu has to be performed; otherwise work causes bondage in this material world. Therefore, O son of Kunti, perform your prescribed duties for His satisfaction, and in that way you will always remain free from bondage.”
Karma-kanda refers to acts performed under Vedic injunctions for promotion to higher material planets. Such acts are part of materialistic varnashrama.
Yoga is a cognate of the English word yoke. A yoke links two oxen, and yoga links the individual living being and the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Within the framework of daivavarnashrama, different forms of yoga help people on the spiritual path.
Karma-yoga means offering the fruits of one’s activities to the Lord. Common in daiva varnashrama, karma-yoga marks the beginning of spiritual life.
Jnana-yoga means to offer the results of one’s intellectual activities to the Lord by trying to understand Him. It is a step in spiritual development and is part of daiva varnashrama.
Bhakti-yoga means to offer one’s activities to the Lord in complete love and devotion, free of desire for material benefit. Bhakti-yoga is the summit of all yogas because it is completely akarma, or without material results. The goal of daiva varnashrama is to gradually elevate all citizens to bhakti-yoga.
To understand the relationship between karma and varnashrama, we must understand that similar activities may be spiritually dissimilar. In Raja Vidya Srila Prabhupada writes, “On the Battlefield of Kurukshetra, Arjuna engaged in fighting, and those on the side of Duryodhana engaged in fighting. We must understand how it is that Arjuna is free from reaction whereas Duryodhana is not. Externally we can see that both parties are engaged in fighting, but we should understand that Arjuna is not bound by reactions because he is fighting under the order of Krishna.”
Finally, we must understand that within daiva varnashrama our consciousness—not our varna or ashrama—determines our spiritual standing. Srila Prabhupada wrote to a disciple, “Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita that anyone who surrenders unto Me, whether a woman, shudra, vaishya, etc., they all attain the highest perfection of bhakti-yoga—not that now I am grihastha, I am doing karma-yoga, or now I am vanaprastha, I am doing sankhya-yoga. This is all nonsense.”
In considering courses for each varna, I asked myself, What kind of knowledge is needed to build a self- sufficient spiritual community that can encourage and protect its citizens? I also looked at the qualities and duties of the different varnas as described in scripture and thought about what kind of training would best help each varna develop. Finally, I looked at Prabhupada’s descriptions of training for the different varnas.
- Scriptural studies
- Prabhupada’s instructions on varnashrama
- Teacher training
- Mental health and learning disabilities
- Ayurvedic medicine
- Herbal healing
- Deity worship in the rural community
- Kings in the Bhagavatam
- Social order (Sociology)
- Military arts
- Ethics and morality
- The sciences
- Devotional service
Some subjects require further consideration. For example, Prabhupada suggests training in the sciences for kshatriyas, but science is a broad field. Should kshatriyas learn nuclear physics and synthetic chemistry? Or would agronomy, ecology, sanitation, and dairy science be more valuable to the leader of a self-sufficient community?
Srila Prabhupada said that a varnashrama community would consist of just a few brahmanas and kshatriyas. Most citizens would work as vaishyas or shudras.
- Fundamentals of ecology and permaculture
- Developing a resource inventory
- Basic farming practice
- Fundamentals of animal health and reproduction
- Krishna’s example of cow protection
- Basic cow care
- Working with oxen
- The herd sire
- Pasture management
- Food grain production and processing
- Fiber plant production and processing
- Orchard skills
Since those working in the shudravarna support the other members of society, their curriculum would need to be accordingly broad. Many courses would emphasize hands-on instruction to build expertise in practical skills.
- Technical drawing
- Implement design and construction
- Woodworking and carpentry
- Cart and wagon design and construction
- Road building and excavating
- Energy-efficient house construction
- Water supply and sanitation
- Energy forms: Potentials and pitfalls
- Performance arts for preaching
- Visual arts for preaching
- Small-scale textile production
- Vegetable dyes
As in any small college, students majoring in different varnas would have ample opportunity to interact with each other, and those interactions would foster a spirit of appreciation, cooperation, and community. Students in different varnas might study some of the same courses. For example, for a successful self-sufficient community both vaishyas and kshatriyas should have a basic understanding of soil science and soil conservation, taught in an agronomy course. As the teachers of the community, brahmanas would specialize in different areas of knowledge. So besides brahminical courses, brahmanas would study subjects primarily meant for kshatriyas, vaishyas, or shudras.
All students would take some core subjects, such as an elementary course in cow protection and a course on community development. Most important, to create a common goal and vision for a varnashrama community, all students would come together to study Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on varnashrama and farm community development.
Steps We Can Take Now: Study and Discuss Srila Prabhupada’s InstructionsDevelop Training In Self-Sufficiency Skills
The more we can get together to study and discuss Prabhupada’s instructions on the pitfalls of the materialistic varnashrama systems and the benefits of the original system, the better our chances of avoiding mistakes so we can build a system that will help people in their spiritual lives. ISKCON centers can set up weekly classes to study Prabhupada’s instructions on varnashrama.
Even though ISKCON may not have a full-fledged varnashrama college, it can still offer training in some of the subjects needed to help self-sufficient communities develop. Prabhupada told devotees in Mauritius that others would be attracted by their “training power.” Classes in gardening, carpentry, and community relations, for example, can teach valuable skills while providing opportunities to tell others about Krishna conscious philosophy.
Support Cow Protection
Cow protection is an important duty of the vaishya class, of which businessmen are a part. Although properly caring for cows in a modern industrial city is impossible, men and women in business can fulfill their responsibility by supporting cow protection in ISKCON farm communities. They can also visit the farms to see how the needs of the cows are being met and the cowherds trained and maintained.
Support Krishna Conscious FarmersShow Appreciation For the Service of Others
“Anything grown in the garden is a hundred times more valuable than if it is purchased from the market,” Srila Prabhupada told disciples in France. What could be a more opulent offering to the Lord than fruits, vegetables, and grains grown by devotee farmers with love and devotion for Him—without the use of poisonous sprays or slaughterhouse by-products such as bloodmeal and bonemeal, popular with most other organic farmers? Devotee farmers who use a rototiller to grow tomatoes, beans, and squash for the market may not be quite up to the ideal of Prabhupada’s ox-powered subsistence grain farmer, but certainly to be working on the land for Krishna is a big step in the right direction. If such farmers are supported, their children might become inspired to take care of the cows and become Krishna conscious ox-power farmers.
One of the most dangerous aspects of any class system is the fostering of feelings of contempt between classes. This threatens social harmony and reinforces materialistic class identity, stunting spiritual growth. To move toward Prabhupada’s varnashrama system, we must practice showing our appreciation when others serve the Lord by their occupational duty, whether by dressing the Deity, managing the temple accounts, raising Krishna conscious children, acting as temple president, growing vegetables for the Lord, or putting in a new electrical system. If we look for the connection with Krishna, we lose our materialistic vision of others and reinforce their identity as devotees. Also, we can encourage them in their service by providing opportunities for additional training in their specialty.
A conversation with His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
The following conversation between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and a life member of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness took place in August 1976 on an early-morning walk in Hyderabad, India.
Member: What is your view on birth control by contraception?
Srila Prabhupada: That is the most sinful activity. Birth control should be done by restraining sex.
Member: That is one way.
Srila Prabhupada: That is the only way approved in the shastra [scriptures]. All other ways are sinful.
Member: But people are committing sinful activities like contraception and abortion. What will happen to them?
Srila Prabhupada: They will suffer. Those who are killing children in the womb will themselves be killed. They will enter into a mother’s womb and be killed. They will be punished, tit for tat. But that they do not know. These rascals have no education about the laws of nature. They’re acting very independently, but Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita [3.27], ahankara- vimudhatma kartaham iti manyate: Those who think they can act independently of nature are vimudhas, rascals. They will be punished by the laws of nature, just like a thief who defies the laws of the government.
Member: What is the qualificationof someone fit to have children?
Srila Prabhupada: The husband and wife should not have a child unless they can take full responsibility for saving him from the repetition of birth and death. This is the shastric injunction—pita na sa syaj janani na sa syat … na mocayed yah samupeta- mrityum. In the material world everyone is rotating in the cycle of birth and death, transmigrating from one body to another (tatha dehantara-praptih). And after many millions of years, one gets the chance to become a human being. Now, in this life, one can stop birth and death. That is Vedic culture—learning how to conquer the process of repeated birth and death (punar-janma-jaya). But that is possible only in human life. So the parents’ duty is to train their children in such a way that their present birth is their last. And that training is Krishna consciousness.
Unfortunately, people are ignorant of this science. So both parents and children are staying in the cycle of birth and death and wasting the opportunity of having a human body. This is modern civilization. People do not know this science; they are kept in darkness. Their so-called education is useless, because they do not learn what the destination of life is (na te viduh svartha-gatim hi vishnum).
Practically speaking, there is no education. The modern so- called education teaches you how to eat nicely, how to sleep nicely, how to have sex nicely, and how to defend nicely. And that is the business of the animals. They know how to eat, how to sleep, how to have sex, and how to defend. So the extra intelligence of the human being is making a deluxe edition of eating, sleeping, sex, and defense. The modern civilization is a deluxe edition of animal life. That’s all.
Member: But many people would insist that the material progress of present-day society makes life worthwhile.
Srila Prabhupada: What will you do with your material progress at the time of death? Suppose you have a big bank balance, a nice house, good friends. At any moment death can come and kick you out. What can you do? Mrityuh sarva-harash caham: as death, Krishna will come one day and take everything you have. Finished. And He may make you a dog. Now bark. How can you stop it? You have practiced how to bark in the legislative assembly. Now become a dog and go on barking—yow, yow, yow! This is going on.
No one knows the purpose of life. As Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita, asatyam apratishtham te jagad ahur anishvaram. People are claiming this world is false (asatyam), there is no cause (apratishtham), there is no God (anishvaram). So the modern civilization denies God, yet it is still trying to mitigate the miseries of life. But Bhagavad-gita proposes that first of all you should try to understand what your real misery is. Do you know what the real misery of your life is? What is the misery of your life?
Member: The misery of life is to live without divine knowledge.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. The real misery of life is that while you are an eternal soul, with no birth or death, you are suffering repeated birth and death of the body. Therefore birth and death are your real miseries (janma- mrityu-jara-vyadhi-duhkha-doshanudarshanam). This is knowledge.
But people have no brain to understand these things. Krishna clearly says, na jayate mriyate va: “For the soul there is neither birth nor death.” But the rascals never think, “Why am I suffering birth? Why am I dying?” Where is their education? They are struggling to get free of misery, but they don’t know what their actual misery is. They foolishly engage in the struggle for existence and hope for the survival of the fittest.
Member: The theory of the survival of the fittest may be applicable in our case because fit means—
Srila Prabhupada: Fit means “not getting another material body.” That is being fit, because as soon as you get another material body you must suffer. People are mad, working day and night, but they are acting adversely to their own interest. You already have a body that is causing you suffering, and by your karma, your fruitive work, you are creating another body. And as soon as you get another material body, you’ll have to suffer, whether you become a king or a dog.
People have no brain to solve this problem, although there is a solution. Tyaktva deham punar janma naiti mam eti: Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita that if you understand Him in truth, you can get out of the cycle of birth and death and go back to Godhead—no more birth and death.
So you have become our life member. Try to broadcast the philosophy of Bhagavad-gita. That is the meaning of membership. Everything is there in Bhagavad-gita. Thoroughly study Bhagavad-gita As It Is. Understand the philosophy of Krishna consciousness, apply it in your own life, and try to spread it among your friends.
A conversation with His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
The following conversation between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and some of his disciples took place on an early-morning walk in December 1973 at Venice Beach, California.
Devotee: Srila Prabhupada, sometimes we argue that although the laws of nature are very powerful, we can overcome such things as disease and death if we surrender to Lord Krishna, since He is controlling nature. But skeptics say we can gradually come to control the laws of nature on our own, without God.
Srila Prabhupada: No, we are forced to accept the laws of nature. How can anyone say he has conquered the laws of nature?
Devotee: Well, the doctors and biologists have conquered so many diseases.
Srila Prabhupada: But people are still becoming diseased. How have the doctors stopped disease?
Devotee: In Africa and India, for instance, they are inoculating everyone against smallpox, and they’ve saved many thousands of children from dying.
Srila Prabhupada: But the children will grow up and get old and die eventually in any case. So death has not been stopped. And besides, why do they bother about these children? They don’t want overpopulation, so logically the doctors should let them die. But the doctors are illogical. On one side they want to check the death of children, and on the other side they recommend the use of contraceptives and kill the children in the womb by abortion. Why? Why are they killing? To check the increase in population. Then when children are dying in another part of the world, why are they anxious to save them?
Devotee: Once the child is born, they want to save him. But when the child is still in the womb they feel they can kill him. They say he is not yet a human being.
Srila Prabhupada: But the child is already born as soon as a woman becomes pregnant. Pregnancy means the child is already born. How can they say there is no child? What is this nonsense? When a woman is pregnant, why do we say she is “with child”? This means the child is already born. Therefore, I say this abortion business is simply rascaldom.
Devotee: Well, they’ve rationalized it.
Srila Prabhupada: How?
Devotee: Sometimes they say they’re just doing what they feel is best. And of course they deny that there’s any such thing as karma to punish them later. It seems like they have a kind of “rabbit philosophy.” When a rabbit closes his eyes so he doesn’t see the wolf bearing down on him, he may actually think he’s safe.
Srila Prabhupada: So, the abortionists believe in rabbit philosophy. It is not a man’s philosophy. It is rabbit’s philosophy, frog’s philosophy, ass’s philosophy. And they have been described in Srimad-Bhagavatam (2.3.19): shva-vid- varahoshtra-kharaih samstutah purushah pashuh. The leaders, who often support abortion, are rascals, and they are glorified by another set of rascals and fools—the people in general. Because the whole population is made up of rascals, they elect a rascal as their leader. Then, being dissatisfied, they throw the first rascal out of office and elect another rascal. This is called punah punash carvita-carvananam: chewing the chewed. The people do not know whom to elect. Therefore they have to be educated to choose a leader who is God conscious, who is actually fit to be a leader. Then they will be happy. Otherwise, they will go on electing one rascal and rejecting him, electing another rascal and rejecting him, and so on.
In America there is a slogan “In God we trust.” So, we don’t say, “Elect me president.” We simply say that the standard for a leader should be that he knows who God is and that he trusts in Him. And if people actually want to know who God is, they can read Bhagavad- gita. They should read it with intelligence and try to understand, and then for further progress they may study Srimad-Bhagavatam. It is not that we are theorizing. We are taking our information about God from authorized books.
Devotee: In our leaflet about politics, we list the qualifications of a leader. First we say he must follow the four regulative principles: no meat-eating, no illicit sex, no gambling, and no indulging in intoxicants. And the one positive injunction we give is that the leader chant the holy name of the Lord. But someone might argue that these requirements violate the constitutional principle of separation of church and state.
Srila Prabhupada: If you believe in God, why should you have any objection to chanting the holy name of God? If you say, “In God we trust,” then you must know the name of God and the address of God. Then you can actually trust Him. And if you don’t know these things, then learn them from us. We are giving you God’s name, address, qualities—everything. And if you say there is no God, then what is the meaning of “In God we trust”?
Devotee: They have made propaganda to separate church and state, but they’ve also separated God and country.
Srila Prabhupada: Those who are making this propaganda do not understand what God is. God cannot be separated from anything, because everything is God (maya tatam idam sarvam). If they study the Bhagavad-gita they will understand that God is present everywhere. It is not possible to separate anything from Him. Just as your consciousness is present in every part of your body, so the supreme consciousness, God, is present everywhere in the universe. Krishna says, vedaham samatitani: “I know everything that has happened.” Unless He is everywhere, how can He know everything? What do you say?
Devotee: This is logical, Srila Prabhupada.
Srila Prabhupada: How can you separate God from the government? You may reject any so-called church, any so-called religion that agrees, “Yes, God and the state should be separate.” And that is God’s instruction—that we reject such so-called religions. Sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam sharanam vraja: “Give up all kinds of so-called religion and simply surrender to Me,” Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita. People may say they believe in God, but you can know they are ignorant of what God is when they try to separate God from government.
Centuries of political experiments have not altered the basic structure of the body politic. Why?
by Maturesha Dasa
Throughout recorded history, in every society on the face of the earth, we find different classes of men or divisions of society. Despite all varieties of political, social, economic, and religious climates, classes exist. Even modern democratic and communistic ideals of equality have failed to abolish class divisions. Classes continue to exist, and we can therefore conclude that they are permanent. They are inherent in human society itself, just as our head, arms, stomach, and legs are inherent in our bodily structure.
The Vedic scriptures, the oldest scriptures known to man, describe four principal classes. These are (1) an intelligent class (brahmanas), (2)a martial or administrative class (kshatriyas), (3)a mercantile class (vaishyas), and (4) a laborer class (shudras). The qualities by which these different classes work and by which they can be recognized are given in the Eighteenth Chapter of the Bhagavad-gita:
“Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, wisdom, knowledge, and religiousness—these are the qualities by which the brahmanas work.
“Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity, and leadership are the qualities of work for the kshatriyas.
“Farming, cow protection, and trade are the qualities of work for the vaishyas, and for the shudras there is labor and service to others.” (Bg. 18.42- 44)
These different classes of men, recognized by their respective tendencies for work, are always present, and the system of social organization based on these divisions is called varnashrama. Varna indicates the four social divisions we have already listed, and ashrama indicates progressive spiritual stages. The ashramas are (1) student life, (2) married life, (3) retired life, and (4) renounced life, and they are meant to train each man to perform his duties for the satisfaction of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna.
These divisions exist in human society because human life is different from the life of animals. A human being has the ability to inquire about spiritual life: “Who am I? Why am I suffering? What is God? What is my relationship with Him?” These are questions that can be posed by human beings, and not by animals. Human life, therefore, offers us the unique opportunity to reestablish our lost relationship with the Supreme Person. The Vedas enjoin, athato brahma-jijnasa: “Now, in the human form of life, is the time to inquire into the Absolute Truth:” A human being who does not make this inquiry the central purpose of his life is loitering on the animal platform. Animals can eat, sleep, mate, and defend without caring for higher goals, but a human being who does so is wasting his valuable life. The value of a thing is judged by what one can attain with it. With five thousand dollars, for instance. you can purchase a nice car. But if someone convinces you to spend the same amount for an ordinary bicycle, then he is a cheater, and you have been tricked into wasting your money. Similarly, if we spend our human life properly, under the guidance of the ancient wisdom of the Vedas, we can attain an eternal, joyful life full of knowledge; and if we spend it for animal pleasures, we have been cheated.
The varnashrama institution, described in the Bhagavad-gita and the Srimad-Bhagavatam, is a system of social organization designed solely for this purpose—to order society in such a way that every human being, no matter what his position, may peacefully cultivate God consciousness and by that spiritual education make a complete success of his life. By varnashrama we achieve the equality which is only advertised by other social systems. By being educated in the science of Krishna, God, everyone can have an equal opportunity to put an end to all the miseries of material life by ultimately returning to the kingdom of God.
In the Fourth Chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna describes the varnashrama system:
catur-varnyam maya srishtam
tasya kartaram api mam
viddhy akartaram avyayam
“According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable:” (Bg. 4.13)
Why do the four divisions exist? Krishna says, maya srishtam—“because they were created by Me.” We can understand that any organized structure, such as a house or a bridge, implies a creator. We look at a sturdy house and question, “Who has built this house?” Similarly, we must ask, “Who is the creator?” And Krishna says, “I am that creator.” It is because God created the divisions of society that they exist permanently. Social or political structures created by man and imposed upon human society do not last, because they are concocted and artificial. But these four divisions of human society—the intellectual, martial, mercantile, and laborer classes—were created by God when He created human society itself. The divisions are not imposed or artificial. They are inherent by the divine will. Rather than try to abolish them, we should learn how to use them as they were originally intended to be used by their creator.
The divisions in society are like the divisions in our body. Although the body has different parts, they all must cooperate for the body to survive. This is also true of the social body. The social body must have a head to direct it, arms to protect it, a stomach to feed it, and legs to support it. The intelligent class must give direction to society, based on the authority of the Vedas, so that every man may realize his eternal relationship with God. This is real intelligence. Next, the administrative class must protect society by upholding religious principles and thus putting the general population in a receptive mood toward the guidance of the brahmanas. The vaishyas, the mercantile class, are not meant to open factories to mass produce useless items and thus enslave millions of men for the profit of an elite few. As explained in the Bhagavad-gita, the vaishyas should produce abundant grains by farming and should protect cows. In this way, there will never be a scarcity of the two most essential foods for the human being—grains and milk. And the shudras, the laborer class, can render service to the other three classes of society and thus have all their necessities supplied to them. From the example of the social body, we can understand that no part of society is less important than any other part. Do we consider our legs less important than our arms? Would we want to neglect our stomach? Of course not. If you stub your toe, then immediately the attention of the head and the working power of the arms are focused on the injured area. Divisions of the social body are meant for cooperation—not for competition or exploitation. This is the purpose for which they were created.
After explaining that He is the creator of the divisions of society, Krishna explains how to identify these classes. This is explained in the words guna-karma-vibhagashah. Guna means quality, and karma means activity. According to Lord Krishna, the author of varnashrama, we must judge a man impartially by his qualifications and work. In other words, family heritage, nationality, race, color, and creed are not the criteria for the divisions of society. The actual varnashrama system cannot be accused of discrimination or of limiting the individual’s opportunity to follow his inclinations and aspirations. The caste system of India, although using the terminology of varnashrama (brahmana, kshatriya, vaishya, shudra), is not actually varnashrama, because it is based on heredity. The Indian caste system has deteriorated and failed for just this reason. Someone born into a family of brahmanas, the priestly or intellectual class, would claim to be a brahmana automatically, whether or not he had the qualifications, and even if his activities were most degenerate. This is not at all sensible, nor is it supported by the Gita. For example, the son of a high-court judge may receive the opportunity, by inspiration and instruction, to become a high-court judge himself. But he still requires training and education before he seeks an appointment to that post. He cannot claim to be qualified for such a position merely on the strength of his high parentage. Similarly, the son of a doctor may naturally desire to practice medicine and may take advantage of his father’s experience. But he, too, requires long years of training in medical school. So the argument that birth qualifies one for a certain post in society contradicts common sense and is not supported by the instructions of the Bhagavad-gita. Anyone is free to take any position in society, provided he develops the qualifications. Varnashrama cannot be accused of rigidity or of restricting social mobility. The actual varnashrama system trains and educates the individual in the duties and occupation for which he is already inclined. Lord Krishna gives directions for that training in the Bhagavad-gita and other Vedic literatures. Any other system of training, whether caste, communist, or democratic, necessarily misguides society and spoils the mission of human life.
tasya kartaram api mam
viddhy akartaram avyayam
Krishna next explains that although He created the varnashrama system, He is transcendental to it. Varnashrama serves to elevate the human being from the animal consciousness of eating, sleeping, mating, and fearing to the level of pure love of God. Without this there is no meaning to varnashrama. Since Krishna is Himself the Personality of Godhead, there is no need for Him to take part in varnashrama. When He appears in human society, however, He does participate in varnashrama just to set an example for human society. The principles of religion are His enacted laws, and He therefore takes care to see that they are maintained. When Krishna appeared in human society five thousand years ago, He followed all the prescribed duties for a kshatriya (warrior-prince) and family man. Although He is above all such requirements, He accepted them in order to set an example, just as a father behaves in an exemplary manner to teach his children. Krishna is like the governor of a state who visits the penitentiary to see that things run smoothly and that the prisoners make progress toward again becoming law-abiding citizens. The governor is not a prisoner, even while in the prison. He can come and go as he likes. His position is that of an overseer. Similarly, when Krishna descends to the material world, He does so to establish religious principles, and He is not subject to the laws of material nature. Simply by understanding this, we become qualified to return to the eternal spiritual world beyond the material sky—Krishna’s abode, the kingdom of God.
janma karma ca me divyam
evam yo vetti tattvatah
tyaktva deham punar janma
naiti mam eti so ’rjuna
“One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna. “ (Bg. 4.9)
Krishna is transcendental to varnashrama. Since each class and order of society engages a man in the service of God, each participant in varnashrama understands that his particular designation as a brahmana, kshatriya, vaishya, or shudra is temporary, and that his permanent position is that of a transcendental servant of Krishna. Thus, even if one remains in one class or occupation his entire life, there is no question of stigma or restriction, because everyone’s actual position is that he is a servant of God. Lord Caitanya, the incarnation of Krishna who appeared five hundred years ago in Bengal, taught this very principle:
naham vipro na ca nara-patir ...
“I am neither a brahmana, nor a kshatriya... The only designation that I wish to accept is that of a servant of the servant of the servant of Krishna.”
We are, first of all, servants of the Supreme Person, and the different divisions of society are meant to best engage our respective qualities in His service. When one becomes completely purified by that service, he no longer relies on any designation, but simply thinks himself a humble servant of God, Krishna. Lord Caitanya therefore taught that it is the prime duty of everyone to chant the holy names of God. Lord Caitanya especially recommended the Hare Krishna mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. This mantra simply means, “O my Lord, please engage me in Your loving service.”